An e-waste a-way journey

| September 11, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Natalie Meerholz

In order to develop as an information technology (IT) teacher, I was determined to move away from skillsbased lessons to a more integrated, project-based approach to learning in my classroom.

As I pondered how to make learning more relevant to my students’ lives, I became aware of the electronic waste accumulating in our school, Holy Rosary School in Johannesburg. No one I spoke to knew where or how to dispose of this waste – the fastest growing waste stream in South Africa. Electronic or e-waste is any electronically powered or battery-operated item that is broken or has reached the end of its life span. Common examples are toasters, kettles, computer components and old cellphones. I wondered if there was a way to launch and sustain an effective e-waste recycling initiative.

Research led to partnerships

Google led me to Desco Recyclers, an e-waste recycling company based in Gauteng. I needed more advice to create an e-waste campaign at our school. My timing was serendipitous. Desco had set up collection points at the Northgate and Kolonnade shopping centres; at electronics superstore Incredible Connection outlets; and Builders Warehouse stores in Johannesburg. Now Desco wanted to partner with a school.

With Desco and Incredible Connection’s help, and the support of the Miss Earth South Africa initiative, we were able to invite other schools and community members to a launch on 18 March 2011, at which our pupils danced, rapped, sang and encouraged the audience to get involved in the project. On a more serious note, we wanted to make the point that IT was the perfect medium through which to educate people about ewaste. Some of our pupils therefore also presented electronic projects based on the theme of e-waste. It was an opportunity to publically display some of the ICT integration that had happened at Holy Rosary as part of our whole school e-waste awareness initiative.

At the launch, our sponsors placed a container-sized collection bin at the school – the idea being that Holy Rosary School would become known in the community as an e-waste drop-off point. The ‘unveiling’ of the bin added to the excitement. It was something tangible that the school community could see.

Integrating the curriculum to talk about e-waste

The e-waste awareness initiative continued long after the launch, with all classes focusing on the topic during the schoolwide weekly projects lesson timeslot. The Grade 8 art teacher agreed to run an e-waste art sculpture competition in her lessons. The high school environmental mentor arranged for her committee to visit Desco to learn more about its operations. Pupils in Grades 4-7 created e-waste interactive games, using a software programme called 2Simple DIY. The games ranged from memory challenges to ‘Pacman’-styled games where you had to identify and ‘catch’ e-waste, and all were uploaded onto a website with an e-waste theme. E-books – digital story books written by the students – were created by our younger learners on topics related to e-waste.

The initiative also extended into our community. We developed and distributed flyers in the neighbourhood to encourage residents to use the Holy Rosary e-waste bin (and our paper recycling bins once they’d read the flyers!). Our partners also ensured constant exposure to the problem of e-waste. Incredible Connection sponsored laptops as prizes in a digital poster competition for pupils, teachers and parents. The posters had to inform the public about e-waste, and the winning entries were uploaded to a special Facebook page.

Incredible Connection also gave a laptop to the winner of our school sculpture competition. Our Grade 5 pupils visited our neighbour, Hurlyvale Primary School, to talk about e-waste. The students designed a presentation that included their e-waste movies, PowerPoint presentations and e-waste songs. It was an incredible opportunity for these 10-year-olds to present to a whole assembly of their peers, explaining what e-waste is, the possible dangers it presents and why we should dispose of it responsibly. Our pupils also gave a presentation to DHL’s executive committee. DHL is an international shipping, courier and packaging services company that has extensive ‘green policies’ in place – but, prior to our visit, was unaware of what to do with its e-waste.

The highlight of our awareness campaign was a visit to our school from the Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, Rejoice Mabudafhasi, during which our pupils were able to showcase some of their e-waste projects. The minister encouraged these girls – who she referred to as “green scorpions” – to continue with their excellent effort in their awareness campaign around e-waste.

Taking it global

Our campaign was entered into the Microsoft Innovative Teachers Competition, which is focused on ICT project integration and judged by representatives from Microsoft and educationists from around the world. It was a way of benchmarking our work against the work of first other South African schools, and later other global competitors. The project received a first place in the category Extending Learning Beyond the Classroom and a second place in the Critical Thinking category in the national round. These awards enabled the project to compete in the Pan African/Middle East round hosted in Aqaba, Jordan, where the project was placed third in my category. I was also able to travel to Washington DC to participate in the Global Forum hosted by Microsoft, alongside 100 other educators from around the world.

Throughout this time, I gave many presentations to other contestants, conference attendees and judging panels. I was able on all occasions to fly the Holy Rosary, Desco and South African flags high, with pride and commitment to this form of recycling. In Jordan, one of the judges was the Egyptian minister of education. He commented how the e-waste policies in his country were inadequate, and how our work had made him realise that more awareness campaigns and certified companies dealing in responsible e-waste recycling were needed. I also learned about the e-waste problem in many other countries. In Ghana, for example, it threatens the livelihood of many communities.1

Sustainable initiative continues

Our awareness campaign continues to bear fruit. Members of the community are able to deposit their e-waste into the bin located on the sports grounds of the school. Once the bin is full, Desco is contacted, and sends a truck to collect the waste, which is then taken to Desco’s recycling plant in Kempton Park. There the e-waste is weighed, and we are sent a recycling certificate for each load. After the loads have been separated, we are also able to get a printed report that breaks down the contents of each load.

When this project was initiated, there was little knowledge of e-waste in our community. The focus was on the recycling of plastic, glass and paper, not e-waste. To date, we have collected over 10 tonnes of e-waste. This is no mean feat as e-waste, unlike paper, is not a daily consumable product. Encouraging people to recycle requires a constant effort. Making recycling easy for people will result in the success of any recycling campaign. We have made it easy to dispose of e-waste by having a markedly visible bin in an easily accessible area.

As our work in the area of e-waste continues, so does our learning. We have considered the option of recycling some useable components to rural schools or poorer communities. The challenge in this regard, however, is the technical upkeep and maintenance of older computers once they reach their destination. Often these machines do not support the latest licenced software.

What I am most proud of is that we have proved that sustainable recycling can happen through concerted awareness campaigns, and that once we all know more, we can all do better.

Reference:

1. See, for example, http://www.ghanabusinessnews.com/2010/06/07/e-waste-inghana-% E2%80%93-how-many-children-are-dying-fromlead- poisoning/.

Category: e-Education, Spring 2012

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